US life expectancy in 2020 saw biggest drop since WWII

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday. The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years.

The drop spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said is responsible for close to 74 percent of the overall life expectancy decline. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in U.S. history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11 percent of those deaths.

Black life expectancy has not fallen so much in one year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials have not tracked Hispanic life expectancy for nearly as long, but the 2020 decline was the largest recorded one-year drop.

The abrupt fall is "basically catastrophic," said Mark Hayward, a University of Texas sociology professor who studies changes in U.S. mortality.

Killers other than COVID-19 played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. And rising homicides were a small but significant reason for the decline for Black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, the report's lead author.

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50-year war on drugs imprisoned millions of Black Americans

Landscaping was hardly his lifelong dream.

As a teenager, Alton Lucas believed basketball or music would pluck him out of North Carolina and take him around the world. In the late 1980s, he was the right-hand man to his musical best friend, Youtha Anthony Fowler, who many hip hop and R&B heads know as DJ Nabs.

But rather than jet-setting with Fowler, Lucas discovered drugs and the drug trade at arguably the worst time in U.S. history — at the height of the so-called war on drugs. Addicted to crack cocaine and convicted of trafficking the drug, he faced 58 years imprisonment at a time when drug abuse and violence plaguing major cities and working class Black communities were not seen as the public health issue that opioids are today.

By chance, Lucas received a rare bit of mercy. He got the kind of help that many Black and Latino Americans struggling through the crack epidemic did not: treatment, early release and what many would consider a fresh start.

"I started the landscaping company, to be honest with you, because nobody would hire me because I have a felony," said Lucas. His Sunflower Landscaping got a boost in 2019 with the help of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a national nonprofit assisting people with criminal backgrounds by providing practical entrepreneurship education.

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WHO leader says virus risk inevitable at Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics should not be judged by the tally of COVID-19 cases that arise because eliminating risk is impossible, the head of the World Health Organization told sports officials Wednesday as events began in Japan.

How infections are handled is what matters most, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a speech to an International Olympic Committee meeting.

"The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted," he said.

The number of Games-linked COVID-19 cases in Japan this month was 79 on Wednesday, with more international athletes testing positive at home and unable to travel.

"The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases," Tedros said, noting the athletes who already tested positive in Japan, including at the athletes village in Tokyo Bay, where most of the 11,000 competitors will stay.

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Brisbane picked to host 2032 Olympics without a rival bid

TOKYO (AP) — Brisbane was picked Wednesday to host the 2032 Olympics, the inevitable winner of a one-city race steered by the IOC to avoid rival bids.

The Games will go back to Australia 32 years after the popular 2000 Sydney Olympics. Melbourne hosted in 1956.

"We know what it takes to deliver a successful Games in Australia," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told International Olympic Committee members in an 11-minute live video link from his office.

When the award was later confirmed, with Brisbane winning the vote 72-5, Morrison raised both arms in the air and gave two thumbs up.

The victory led to a fireworks display in Brisbane that was broadcast to IOC members in their five-star hotel in Tokyo.

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Massive wildfires in US West bring haze to East Coast

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Wildfires in the American West, including one burning in Oregon that's currently the largest in the U.S., are creating hazy skies as far away as New York as the massive infernos spew smoke and ash into the air in columns up to six miles high.

Skies over New York City were hazy Tuesday as strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states. Oregon's Bootleg Fire grew to 606 square miles — half the size of Rhode Island.

Fires also grew on both sides of California's Sierra Nevada. In Alpine County, the so-called California Alps, the Tamarack Fire caused evacuations of several communities and grew to 61 square miles with no containment. The Dixie Fire, near the site of 2018's deadly Paradise Fire, was more than 90 square miles and threatened tiny communities in the Feather River Valley region.

The smoke on the U.S. East Coast was reminiscent of last fall when multiple large fires burning in Oregon in the state's worst fire season in recent memory choked the local skies with pea-soup smoke but also impacted air quality several thousand miles away.

"We're seeing lots of fires producing a tremendous amount of smoke, and ... by the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it's usually thinned out, there's just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it's still pretty thick," said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Over the last two years we've seen this phenomenon."

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Big infrastructure bill in peril as GOP threatens filibuster

WASHINGTON (AP) — The bipartisan infrastructure deal senators brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial Wednesday test vote as they struggle over how to pay for nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.

Tensions were rising as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they see as a rushed and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his big infrastructure ideas — including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill — restless Democrats say it's time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals.

"It is not a fish or cut bait moment," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday, describing the procedural vote as just a first step to "get the ball rolling" as bipartisan talks progress.

Six months after Biden took office, his signature "Build Back Better" campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington. 

White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators have huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.

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German Cabinet approves some $472 million in first flood aid

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's Cabinet on Wednesday approved a roughly $472 million package of immediate aid for victims of last week's floods and vowed to get started quickly on rebuilding the devastated areas.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said that the package, financed half by the federal government and half by Germany's state governments, to help people deal with the immediate aftermath of the flooding will be expanded if more money is needed. 

"We will do what is necessary to help everyone immediately," he said.

The government also expects to spend billions on rebuilding, but how much exactly won't be clear until authorities have a better overview of the extent of the damage. But Scholz said that reconstruction efforts will get underway without delay.

Visiting the badly damaged town of Bad Muenstereifel on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "we will do everything … so that the money comes quickly to people who often have nothing left but the clothes on their backs."

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War's trauma apparent in portraits of Gazan children

SUZY ISKHONTANA, 7 

Suzy Ishkontana clings to her new toys and clothes, but mostly to her dad. 

For hours, they were separated under the rubble of their family's home. Now she cannot bear to be apart.

More than two months have passed since rescue workers pulled the 7-year-old from the ruins, her hair matted and dusty, her face bruised and swollen. The sole survivors of the family, she and her father heard the fading cries of her siblings buried nearby.

Suzy's mother, her two brothers and two sisters -- ages 9 to 2 -- died in the May 16 Israeli attack on the densely packed al-Wahda Street in Gaza City. Israeli authorities say the bombs' target was Hamas tunnels; 42 people died, including 16 women and 10 children. 

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Teen with US ties again on the run from China with fiancee

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A teenager who says he's a U.S. permanent resident and his fiancée are once again on the run from the threat of extradition to their homeland, China, in a sign of Beijing's lengthening reach over perceived dissidents abroad.

Chinese officials had sought Wang Jingyu, a 19-year-old student, over his online comments about deadly border clashes between Chinese and Indian forces last year. He was arrested by plainclothes police in Dubai while transferring for a flight to the U.S. in early April and was held for weeks, in a case that the U.S. Department of State has described as a human rights concern. He said Chinese authorities in Dubai took away his green card.

Wang was freed May 27, just hours after The Associated Press asked about him. He fled first to Turkey and then to Ukraine, as a temporary safe place that was open to Chinese passport holders without COVID-19 entry restrictions. 

But on Thursday, the AP has learned, Wang received a warning via email that Chinese officials knew he was hiding in Ukraine, and had escalated the charges against him to subversion of state power, a vaguely defined charge often used by Chinese authorities to imprison critics. The email claimed to be from the state security department of Chongqing city police, which has said they are looking for him.

"Your actions have completely changed from the simple charge of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble and demeaning our border martyrs to subversion of state power," the email read. "We in the public security organs and national security organs know exactly where you are. I want to remind you that China and Ukraine have an extradition agreement."

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Tokyo's drinkers drown frustrations over virus limits, Games

TOKYO (AP) — On the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, the government's attempt to curb a coronavirus surge by targeting drinkers is drowning in liquor, frustration and indifference.

Japan has asked the city's restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m., if not entirely, to keep people from socializing in close contact with strangers and spreading the virus, but the state of emergency hasn't deterred many. Instead, drinkers moved outdoors, and many bars in Tokyo's famed nightlife districts are bustling with defiant customers. 

"Nobody is convinced when (the government) victimizes people who are drinking alcohol without showing decent scientific evidence, even while going ahead with the Olympics," said Mio Maruyama, a 28-year-old real estate industry worker who was chatting with her colleagues on the street in Tokyo's Shinjuku district.

She says she's interested in watching the Games, especially new sports like skateboarding and Japan's Rui Hachimura, an NBA star, "but when I think of how politicians are playing around with this, I'm not quite rooting for this event from my heart." 

"It's not that we are breaking the rules just because we're against the inconsistency between politicians' words and actions," she said, referring to a 40-person reception for International Olympic Committee members on Sunday that included the prime minister and the governor of Tokyo. "But when you see such things, you might think that rulebreakers were right in doing what they're doing." 

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